If at first you don't succeed . . .

10th January 1997 at 00:00
. . . don't, whatever you do, give up.

Fay Maguire had her commitment to teaching well and truly tested when she started to apply for jobs.

While trudging onwards through teaching practice, wondering what I had let myself in for (and being told daily that things were only going to get worse), I remained determined to keep the dream alive: my own classroom, guiding young people through their formative years, developing professionally and personally. It was all so clear!

As Easter approached, jobs popped up in The TES, in local papers, in council bulletins and I duly sent off my SAEs, full of anticipation.

Warning bells began to sound, however, when three out of ten application forms I had requested arrived without any identifying marks whatever - nothing to give me even a small clue as to which school they were from. Never mind job descriptions, there wasn't even a compliments slip. Only by a process of painstaking deduction was I able to work out which schools they were from.

Of the remaining, two arrived with a job description, but nothing about the person they were seeking, or the school, and no letter to indicate to whom, to where or by when I should return the form.

A further form arrived with a nice letter from the head asking me to send in a CV and application letter, but giving no further details of the post advertised. Was this because they weren't absolutely sure themselves, or were they hoping I'd be so grateful for a job I would do anything I was asked?

I was delighted when one form arrived with an introductory letter signed by the head, job and person description and a summary of the school's OFSTED report. Would it be naive of me to ask why it was so difficult for the others to send out relevant information? Is this normal practice, or was I just unlucky?

I telephoned the school that did not send a form. Apparently they had already received 120 requests and were not sending out any more. It did not seem appropriate to mention the SAE I had sent, or ask for it back, even if, as a skint student, every penny counted.

By the end of teaching practice, I was exhausted by continuous observation and assessment. Over the two-year course, 12 out of 22 had either given up or been kicked out. Those of us that had finished were very proud to have succeeded and there was great joy as, one by one, we started to get interviews.

My first interview was a bitter disappointment, if only because it never happened. Arriving home after a long day at school, I came across a handwritten brown envelope on the doormat. Tearing it open, I read "We have pleasure in inviting you for interview on . . .". The interview was for that same day and I had missed it. I couldn't believe it. I sat on the bottom stair and sobbed.

I telephone the head who apologised. Even though the closing date was a month previously, once the candidates for interview had been selected, the school had only given itself two days to send out letters. Yes, it was short notice, but they had already appointed someone. Thank you for your interest.

As I did not hear from any other schools, I began to grow despondent, anxious that I was doing something wrong. I did some research among experienced teacher friends and acquaintances. One primary head said she always gave preference to handwritten letters. A head of sixth form said that, on the contrary, when he was involved in selecting candidates he would consider nothing less that a word-processed application letter, as it demonstrated an essential knowledge of IT. Another teacher who had been involved in recruitment said they discarded forms if the signature was illegible - clear handwriting is a teaching essential.

What about ginger hair, or spectacles? I had assumed, innocently, that schools followed a formal selection procedure that was fair and balanced.

Then a second interview came along. I felt pathetically grateful that this was at least giving me two weeks' notice.

The school was recruiting for three separate jobs and 14 hopefuls were all gathered in the staffroom from the morning onwards. We were taken out, then returned at various times, for either an interview or a tour of the school. By the end of the day, the panel were running an hour and a half late.

Facing all those other nervous contenders was awful. Making polite conversation with rivals, sitting around for hour after hour in a state of high tension was dreadful. As the interview process ground on, we all became immeasurably depressed.

This was nothing, however, compared to the final humiliation of being turned down in front of everyone else. The six of us in line for the same post were pulled out into the corridor, where the head announced the name of the successful candidate. Creeping away, we, The Unsuccessful, listened to our interview feedback, knowing the winner was in the adjacent room, shaking hands with their future employer.

I gave a much improved performance in my next interview and was delighted to be offered, and to accept, the job. But in general, it has to be said that some schools couldn't be more professional in putting people off if they tried.

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